Maui Travel Updates: How to Travel Responsibly to the Fire-Ravaged Island

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Maui Travel Updates - North Maui beach at sunset
North Maui beach. Photo credit: Michael Mendelson
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If you’re wondering whether it’s appropriate to visit Maui now after the August wildfires, the answer is a definite yes, according to the State of Hawaii. Locals, however, ask that you travel responsibly and show respect and support for Maui residents and local businesses as the island fully reopens to visitors on Oct. 8.

LiAnne Driessen, a native Maui resident whose family owns and operates Trilogy Sailing, says there are many ways to do that:

  • Donate to nonprofits aiding in fire relief
  • Buy local
  • Tip your servers (and boat captains) well
  • Be kind

“Learn a bit about our culture before you come,” she says, “and while you are here, immerse yourself in the ways of our people. Whether it is through our language or cultural practices of kuleana (responsibility) to care for our land and sea. Come to enjoy and participate.”

Local Businesses Are Ready to Welcome You Back

Michael Mendelson, a Los Angeles native, has already visited Maui – but stayed on the North Coast, away from the ravaged west side. He discovered low airfares offered to attract visitors to Maui and booked his flights. He figured visiting Maui and spending his money on lodging, food and activities – and tipping generously – were some ways he could help support the locals.

The local businesses were welcoming and expressed appreciation. “When I bought sunglasses from a local shop, the owner said, ‘Thank you, I appreciate you,’” says Mendelson, who stayed at the Aloha Surf Hostel in Paia in Hana, and shopped at local markets and eateries like the Coconut Caboose and Troy’s Plate Lunch.

Maui Fire’s Impact

During his September visit, the island was devoid of travelers. That’s not surprising since travelers initially were asked to stay away from Maui out of respect for those who lost loved ones and homes.

The fires claimed at least 115 lives and destroyed more than 2,200 buildings and homes.

But without visitors, Maui and the State of Hawaii suffered another loss:  revenue from the tourism they rely on.

Extending a warm aloha to visitors now will enable workers who were laid off from restaurants, hotels and tour companies to get back to work.

The Importance of Tourism in Maui

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority  (HTA), 40 percent of Maui jobs depend on visitor spending.

The HTA Board of Directors approved $2.6 million in funding to launch the Maui Marketing Recovery Plan, which features a new Mālama Maui campaign to rebuild responsible travel demand from the United States market to Maui.

“Our island understands and values the importance of tourism. A large component of our recovery is our community getting back to work and this means we need our visitors to return but in a respectful and compassionate manner,” says Sherry Duong, executive director, Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau.

Maui Travel Updates - two people jumping into the water in snorkel gear.
Visitors are welcome to visit and enjoy outdoor activities, dining, shopping and all other activities on Maui, except in Lahaina. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Blake Bronstad

Respecting the Loss

Visitors are asked not to go near the impact zone in Lahaina, where residents lost their homes, businesses, and loved ones, and are still grieving.

It is not a photo or tour opportunity, says Duong.

Where Visitors Can Go

The West Maui communities of Kaanapali, Napili, Honokowai and Kapalua will fully reopen soon. But visitors are encouraged to explore the other areas of Maui, including Kahului, Makena, Paia, Haiku, Makawao and Hana, which have remained open but also suffer from loss of tourism.

In fact, now is a good time to discover Maui’s charming small towns, which have a plethora of things to do from hikes to farm tours, and shopping and dining, says Charlene Kauhane, a Wailuku resident.

“One of my favorite hikes is Makawao Trail followed by lunch and shopping in Makawao town. And Wailuku is a town that’s fun and pairs nicely with a visit to Iao Valley,” says Kauhane.

Please Be Kind

Shelley M. Kekuna, executive director of the Kaanapali Beach Resort Association, says that while not all of its properties will open on Oct. 8 many restaurants and activities in West Maui are open. And she encourages visitors to go to them and support these people who may have also lost a home or loved one but need to keep working.

Just please, she says, be patient and kind. “No one will know that the person serving your food or helping you with a boat tour or directions to your room if that person lost their home and family members,” she says.

Driessen is among those who lost her generational home in Lahaina. But even as Driessen mourns Lahaina, she reminds visitors that it’s one small town on the island and that Maui is still beautiful, filled with amazing people, culture and places to visit.

“I would encourage visitors to enjoy Kaanapali and Kapalua, to explore Hana, take a tour upcountry, watch the windsurfers in Paia, and dine in Wailea,” says Driessen, who now lives in Kula with her husband and their two sons. “We, too, are learning how to enjoy Maui in different ways.”

Read More: 20 Fun Things to Do in Hawaii in 2023

Maui Travel Updates - Man walking into Olowalu General Store in Hawaii.
Visitors are encouraged to shop and dine at locally-owned businesses. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)Dana Edmundspg

Support Local Businesses

As the fires carved a path through Lahaina, they destroyed the harbor and several boats, including one from Trilogy Sailing, which this year celebrates its 50th year as Maui’s first sailboat company. It has a fleet of seven boats operating out of Maalaea, Lahaina and Kaanapali.

“Our company president was able to rescue the other boat in the harbor, and our other three boats that were on the roadstead (moorings) of Lahaina were rescued at 1 am the night of the fires by our other family members,” says Driessen.

However, in the days after the wildfires, Trilogy’s business dropped by 90 percent, says Driessen. Still, Trilogy has been able to resume service. “We are operating all our Maalaea-based tours out of Maalaea along with our flagship Discover Lanai tour.”

The company’s Kaanapali tours will open starting Oct. 17 off Kaanapali Beach. This will include Discover Kaanapali and Deluxe Kaanapali Sunset Sail. Whale watching starts in mid-December.

“By coming to Maui and sailing with Trilogy you not only are supporting a 50-year-old kama’aina (local) business, but our incredible employees—many of whom lost their homes in the fires—and the many other small businesses that support us in our operations,” says Driessen.

She points out that $4 out of every $5 spent in Maui is from the visitor industry. “Our community needs to continue to have businesses to operate in order to rebuild and sustain their life on Maui,” she says.

Embracing the Aloha Spirit

In the months since the wildfires, the aloha spirit never wavered. Many hotels provided housing for their employees and residents displaced by the wildfires as well as emergency workers and agencies.

“The community and the hotels have come together in unbelievable ways to support those that have lost so much!” says Kekuna.

It’s something Mendelson noticed too during his visit. Although there was a definite somber tone, the aloha spirit was strong.

“It was nice to see the island spirit. All the restaurants have signs that say ‘Maui strong.’ You can feel the island community,” says Mendelson.

Maui Travel Updates - Kiai Collier of Hawaii Land Trust and volunteers remove fishing nets from beach.
Kiai Collier of Hawaii Land Trust and volunteers remove fishing nets from the beach. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Heather Goodman

Resources to Malama (Care for Maui)

To show support and join volunteer opportunities, visit gohawaii.com/voluntourism.

In addition, the Maui Accommodations Guide provides helpful resources and volunteer opportunities.

For a list of where to stay, eat and play in the County of Maui, visit Maui Nui First.

Maui Traveler’s Guide is a Facebook page run by Maui residents.


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